Cléo from 5 to 7

Cléo from 5 to 7 ★★★½

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The vérité style of Cléo from 5 to 7 highlights so well Varda's wonderful eye for detail and authenticity. There is a certain appeal to be found in just following the protagonist around the streets of 1960s Paris, travelogue style, soaking up the sights. At times it feels so real you can almost smell it. Unfortunately the first two-thirds of the film offers little more than that; Cleo is not a particularly interesting character, despite the obvious empathy that her story engenders. It seems to me that Varda falls into the same trap that a lot of French cinema from that era falls into: the idea that simply by virtue of being beautiful and somewhat detached (and therefore mysterious) the protagonist will automatically be interesting and three-dimensional to the audience. Watching Cleo wander around Paris, looking sad and being kind of a low-key dick to everyone is as I say fine on a purely visual level, but it fails to properly engage the audience in her plight.

I also wonder about the rather confusing way that Cleo's predicament is introduced to the audience. The first scene shows Cleo having her fortune told, in which she is informed of her impending death; we are not in fact given any indication (as far as I could recall) until much later in the film that she is waiting on the results of medical tests. Is this supposed to be a twist? Was Varda's intention to make the audience think that Cleo is merely a superstitious hypochondriac for the majority of the film? Or was this simply clumsy storytelling?

Thankfully, Varda pulls things back with a brilliantly composed, well-paced and beautifully acted final act, with actual emotion and character development. The famous final shot in particular is an absolute heartbreaker. The film is also pleasingly free of the sort of horrible casual misogyny and "too cool for school" self-seriousness that plagues a lot of the French New Wave output. Indeed, in the rather lovely silent movie section we even get cameos from a number of New Wave luminaries (including Jean-Luc Godard himself) having a bit of fun- maybe they did have a sense of humour after all! But anyway- whilst this, my first fiction film by Varda, wasn't quite the classic I had hoped it would be (almost everything of interest is squeezed into the final half hour) I did still, overall, enjoy it.

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